Archive for the ‘Top Ten of the 2000s’ category

A Call for Participants

March 20, 2010

Some of you will be seeing this post in your blog tracker after having just had to face a similar announcement on your Facebook or Twitter. For this I apologize. What we at Vox Pop, and the Torontoist Book Page, lack in getting things done early, we more than make up for in overdoing them at the last second.

In search of a fun and engaging project for National Poetry Month, the folks at The Torontoist asked me to think about what I might want to do as part of my occasional poetry coverage, what with April fast approaching. After some long walks in the proverbial snow, I decided on a theme: optimism. Optimism as a naive joy, as a specific choice, and as a stubbornly revolutionary force in the face of some bad times for Canadian poets (arts cuts, magazine cuts, a certain growing apathy, institutional indifference, etc). Optimism is the thing I’d most like to see people talking about. And who better to talk about it than the preternaturally optimistic, the most devoutly optimistic social grouping, the young people.

So, on that note, what The Torontoist would like to do is…

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The Torontoist’s Book Page and Vox Populism Present:
THE OPTIMISMS PROJECT: A National Poetry Month Thing

-we’d like to cobble together 30 or so poets, all under the age of 30, and give them some space (100-150 words) to express, in whatever way they choose, what makes them feel optimistic about the future of poetry in Canada. The word Optimism is pluralized in the project title for a reason; we hope to have diverse, surprising, and even contradictory hopes expressed in the same space. Submissions could be prose, poetry, general, specific, practical, fantastical, whatever. Again: diversity, and surprise, are our hopes. We’re “optimistic” that we’ll get some of both.

-each day in April we will feature the optimism of a separate poet, published on The Torontoist’s Book Page with a photo, a short (25 word max) bio, and any internet linkups they may desire.

-in terms of eligibility, it’s wide open (published, unpublished, “novice”, etc), and will run under something approximating a first-come, first-serve basis. If we have to double up, we may. I’m thinking a birth year of 1980, or later. But we’re flexible. University Teachers: I’m relying on you for leads. High School Teachers: You too. Young, established (or establishing poets): Submit yourselves. Everyone else: I have a hunch you might know someone who’d be a great fit.

-If you could please forward this Call for Submissions as widely as possible, I’d be grateful. April approacheth quickly. Submissions should be e-mailed, as soon as humanly possible, to optimismsproject@gmail.com. Though it’s the “Torontoist” book page, we hope to have submissions from all over the country.

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Anyway, if you’ve survived your multiplatform spamming, and still feel somewhat affectionate towards me, please consider who in your life might be a good fit for this project (Note: It might be you…) and forward accordingly. Time is something of the essence.

Thanks,
Jacob McArthur Mooney,
Vox Populism.

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Knocking Off the Knotting-Off (Johnstone, Palmu, Vehicule, Wells)

January 1, 2010

I’m positive there’s more out there, but here’s a brief round-up of some recent favourites/bests lists I’ve seen in my semi-regular internet travels. This will be it for such list-reports from me. They are starting to stray from playful narcissism into just regular narcissism. I apologize for any role I may have played in this erosion.

Jim Johnstone (The Velocity of Escape) does his five favourite books of Canadian poetry this year over here on his blog. I at first thought it was a Decade list, not just 2009, and wondered why everything was so recent-skewing. Tee-hee. Oopsy Daisy.

Noted creator of internet-based anger, Brian Palmu, leads a lightning-fast tour through every book of poetry he read cover to cover in 2009. I wonder if he took notes as the year went on, or if this was all recall.

The Vehicule Press blog hands out a handful of Mosts & Bests. Thanks to them for picking Vox Pop as a favourite new poetry blog. I’m pleased, surely, but probably would have selected Table Music if I was doing the choosing. It’s a little more substantial than this one.

I’d like to think that my subtle nagging played a part in Zach Wells’s decision to list a collection of notable books he found over the past year. Lots of people seem to love Damian Rogers’ Paper Radio. I need to get my mitts on that one.

Lots of other lists out there, I’m sure. Some dude named “Ursus” picked mon ami Sandy Pool for his 2009 Top 5.

Okay. Now let’s stop doing this. We turn our bright attentions to new things…

Knotting-Off the Lately: Starnino

December 28, 2009

Carmine Starnino, essayist, editor, critic,poet, and cage fighter, is also the man behind the curtain at Vehicule Press’s blog. He’s recently joined the cat-calling hoard and posted his own best-of list for 2009. For me, this is mostly a list of books that are working their way up my need-to-read list. I’ve properly digested the Solie, Tierney, Swift, Warner and Klassen titles, though. The Klassen one is a head-scratcher of the highest magnitude, but full of rewards. Likewise the Tierney and Warner. I’ve spoken highly of Pigeon before, and will always read anything Todd Swift puts out there. Poet and noted Vox Pop roommate Jeff Latosik posted this appreciative review of Paper Radio, which I need to get some time with soon. Same for the Sarah and the Clifford.

Here’s the full list, for Carmine’s conflicted introduction (complete with pie charts!) go to the Vehicule blog.

Jane Again
(Biblioasis), Wayne Clifford
Lean-to (Gaspereau), Tonja Gunvaldsen Klassen
Meniscus (Bibloasis), Shane Neilson
True Concessions (Goose Lane), Craig Poile
Paper Radio (ECW), Damian Rogers
Pause for Breath (Biblioasis), Robyn Sarah
Pigeon (Anansi), Karen Solie
Seaway: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Publishing), Todd Swift
The Hayflick Limit (Coach House), Matthew Tierney
Mole (Anansi), Patrick Warner

PS: Cheers to Vehicule for giving press to other houses and their books. Where else are presses using their webspace to foster the common good? Mansfield comes to mind. Are there others?

Knotting-Off the Aughts #1: Dionne Brand’s Inventory

December 24, 2009

Year: 2006
Place of Creation: Southern Ontario
Press: McClelland & Stewart, Ltd

Mode of Acquisition: Required reading. Before I put it on this list, Inventory was on the reading list for a master’s class taught at the University of Guelph by Janice Kulyk Keefer and the late, great Connie Rooke. The world of required reading has produced precious few lasting favourites for me. I remember being made to read Dickens in high school, hating it, and only enjoying it again when I picked up a copy of Bleak House years later and brought it back to my own bleak, Dickensian house in the St. John’s student ghetto. When some friends told me recently that they were teaching some of my poems in their freshmen curriculums, I briefly panicked. Dear undergraduates of Montreal and Halifax: If we got off on the wrong foot somehow, I apologize. Blind dates can be awfully formal, they’re not made for folks like us.

Status of Personal Copy: Given away to a friend from a younger cohort who recycled the text back into the flow of new students. I’d like to think that it was then re-gifted and re-gifted and still being brought to class. If any Guelph MFA students see a well dog-eared copy of Inventory with illegible marginal notes in their travels, it’s likely mine. It’d be good to have those notes again; this project has been concerned with matured reactions born of multiple readings in different moods and places in one reader’s life, but having the original reaction around for a comparison would be interesting.

One year she sat at the television weeping,
no reason,
the whole time
-from Part III

Poets, like scientists, put a lot of faith in observation. In contemporary poetry (and, to some degree, contemporary science) that observation tends to be downward, into small corners, the mechanistic souls of things. In both fields, this is more an era of the microscope than the telescope, appreciating the small over the big. But there are still practitioners in both areas concerned with a specific and exigent review of the larger world (or worlds). Astronomers still speak in terms of light years like they’re miles, and some poets are willing to observe things in their entirety, all tributaries and rivulets. I’ve saved the final entry in this project for a book by the Canadian poet who is doing this the best.

Brand is likely Canada’s best political poet, in the broad definition of that word: a poet concerned with interhuman interaction beyond the simple 1-to-1 scope most humanistic poetry takes as its chief interest; interhuman interaction at the level of the neighbourhood, the city, the country, and the planet, and concerned with both the historical precedents of those interactions, and with predicting how they would evolve if present conditions were changed. Her politics are specific and angry, divorced from the hippy humanism that is the de facto political alignment of the Canadian poet by their wit, their pride, and their willingness to name enemies. This is has led to a reputation that has occasionally bothered certain stupid people, people who are unwilling to engage with her as anything beyond a sort of cartoonish impersonation of the politicized black woman, shaking her overeducated finger at the ignorance around her. Brand’s field of observation is broad and piercing, but if that wasn’t enough to make her a special case in this country of professional navel-gazers, the proactive element in her poetry, its opinions and ideas, leaves her inexplicably alone.

I want to talk a bit about observation. Inventory presents itself as the passive tracking of reported instances of violence in the Middle East and beyond, over the course of a single year somewhere in the first half of this decade. In this way its central conceit is no more editorial than the one behind Kennedy and Wershler’s poem-machine in Apostrophe. But because we know Dionne Brand, we’re not buying that passivity for long, and while Inventory is somewhat light on the big dramatic turns, it still makes room for confrontation. Some of these confrontations are outward, toward the involved parties, while others are turned inward to the passivity itself, or inward further to poetry. She pauses after recounting the death of a “child on bicycle by bomb in Baquaba” to examine the alliteration as it suddenly appears in front of her, as if the terrible music of the decade has clung to her reportage and refused to let it go. The long poem also allows for a dexterity of view between the “there” and “here” that never feels trite or ostentatious. If Inventory has a central political mechanism, it is one of translation, between the unchallenged mathematics of newscaster-reported body counts and the human interpretation of those deaths. As in here:

Consider then the obliteration of four restaurants,
the disappearance of sixty taxis each with one passenger,
or four overcrowded classrooms, one tier of a football stadium,
the sudden lack of, say, cosmeticians

Breaking up the woman accounting for the evening news, we visit a woman traveling through Egypt and a woman reminiscing in a movie theatre. These are also passive figures, the traveler is locked into a typical tourist pattern of looking but not touching, and the movie patron is instructed to do this by the nature of film as an art form. As the poem proceeds, though, The Counter comes back to us as refrain and counterpoint, listing the dead, their numbers and locations, giving Inventory its morbid and unflinching rhythm section.

So many poets, especially those in and around my age, are happily slouching into a sort of superficially-engaged political agnosticism. Disinterested in the specifics of policy, we cling to the typical liberal stances on issues in much the same way our parents or grandparents may have clung to the typically conservative ones, as more of a means of self-identifying with our community than expressing any derived opinions. Admittedly, the urge to write poems about farming or biophysics and the urge to research the GMOs we name drop into such poems are likely dissimilar and rarely shared in the same imagination, and this is fine, I guess. What it leaves, though, is a parade of knee-jerk aphorists. Global warming is bad. Urban sprawl is bad. Stephen Harper is bad. I’m good and you’re good and poetry is fucking awesome. I agree with all of the preceding statements, you understand, but I’ve also spoken to a lot of poets about politics and to some politicians about poetry, and it’s hard to decide which was the less-informed group. I’m not asking for a generation of poets with masterful knowledge of media culture or political economy (though it might help), but I think a political ethic of pluralism, of strengthened resolve as the product of considered alternatives, isn’t too much to ask if you decide to engage with your telescope, in lieu of your microscope.

I hold Brand’s Inventory in a different place not because she’s done all the homework there is to do, but because she’s locked onto means of interacting with the uncaring world that takes this element of study as far out of the equation as possible. At the level of national motivations and peacekeeping, I give way to experts in other fields, but at the level of the individual death, or of the newscaster’s (non-)reaction to reported body counts, atrocity is strictly poets’ work.

My #2 favourite in this list was Christian Bök’s Eunoia. I understand the tension in these top two choices, though other people seem to like them both as well. Bök has publicly proclaimed the commercial success of his books as proof that what “the people” really want from poetry is more experimentation, but while reading a book like Inventory, that opinion falls flat for me. It’s like saying more people would go to church if the mass was still in Latin (or perhaps, an as-yet-unfinished experimental xenolanguage that Bök is presently constructing). Inventory is the book I think of whenever my non-poetry friends (I like to keep a couple in the stable– so I can write poems about them, you know) wish that poetry would be more “accessible”. Accessibility is a terrible word, and it’s done far more harm to poetry than good, but if it simply means that people would read something if you put it in front of them, then I can’t think of a more accessible book that Inventory. Written polyphonically, but in a set of voices that don’t stand out as unusual in the national lexicon, the book looks only to shared, public, experiences for its content. Even the more personal section (the Egyptian trip) is egoless, and only presented as a framing device for the main body of the text.

A hypothetical public reader may complain about the lack of resolution or even moral to Inventory. But I’d argue that there’s a definite moral (In brief: when the assault of our era becomes too chaotic and constant to understand in any prosaic way, then this poetic accounting is the only means of participating). Put another way, at some point, counting replaces countering. Or, the achievable passive reaction has to stand-in for the impossible active one. Or, as Brand puts it in the poem’s last lines:

I have nothing soothing to tell you
that’s not my job,
my job is to revise and revise this bristling list,
hourly.

Superficially, this sounds like an excuse for the unengaged poet, but placed at the end of the list (both hers and mine), I see it as something else. Inventory shows us the steadfastness and diligence needed to track the slow-bleed of the human condition, and it’s a grueling task. It requires a political understanding deeper than most of us possess, just as a documentary filmmaker needs to know enough about her subject to point the camera in the right direction, accounting at the level Brand shows us in Inventory requires an engaged imagination, not just engagement or imagination. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable, in the end, to say that our decade has demanded, in plain terms and without caveat, poetry like this. For all we talk about how ours is an essentially reactive art form (we see something, are struck by it, and move forward from there) we have under-responded unforgivably to the major tropes and themes of our time. Observation needs to be about more than a painter’s eye for the play of light through a window, or a musician’s ear for the rhythmic play of overheard speech. Observation, if it is done by observers engaged in the world from the minimum threshold of our senses on up, results in as many books like Inventory as it does books about personal history, or the arms-length ephemera of contemporary life. The fact that our output has been so imbalanced leaves our true motives suspect. Our decade asked us quite clearly for a downpour of books like Inventory, written from infinite perspectives and in diverse voices, and we gave it exactly one. Surely we deserve whatever happens next.

Bonus Round: The full Knotting-Off list is available here, complete with posting dates and a one-word theme of the discussion. Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you go back to it.

Knotting-Off: Honourable Mentions and Dishonourable Traits (Part 2 of 2)

December 19, 2009

Continuing with our two part wrap-up of this little appreciation, I’d like to talk about ten books that were strongly considered for the Knotting-Off Favourites, but for reasons very much tied to the ideas expressed in Part One, were left off. I’m just doing these in alphabetical order by author, with short considerations after the title.

Ken Babstock’s Days Into Flatspin (Anansi, 2001)
Everyone loves to talk about Airstream Land Yacht and the not-of-this decade Mean, but I’ll take his sophomore effort every time. The hesitant and troublingly distant interaction with nature is sublime and morally complex, standout poems for me thus include Bear 10 and Fire Watch. Flatspin holds a similar place in Babstock’s career as Modern and Normal does in Karen Solie’s, the transition piece between a more traditionally biographical debut and the whirling philosophical carnival to come. Both poets have three excellent books to their names, but my discussion of Flatspin would be redundant after my discussion of Modern and Normal, so here we are.

George Elliot Clarke’s Execution Poems (Gaspereau, 2001)
Crushingly beautiful, and deceptively difficult. This collection, as much as any others (maybe in cahoots with WC Williams’ Patterson and Alice Notley’s Disobedience) got me interested in the book as the meaningful unit of expression, as much if not more indivisible, if you want it to be, as smaller atomistic units such as the sound, the word, the line, the phrase, the poem, etc…

Michael Crummey’s Salvage (McClelland & Stewart, 2002)
Have we lost him completely to fiction? Mayhaps. In Salvage, Crummey does the lush pastoral thing (a style much abused by lesser poets) with verve, confidence, and great humour. The collection starts with the caution, “Sad poems ahead” and goes on to inhabit that sadness fully. Crummey also manages to do the devotional love poem well here, something that his generation of male Canadian poets all but gave up on, and seems to be just now returning to.

Dennis Lee’s Un (Anansi, 2003) and Yesno (Anansi, 2007)
This gave me something of an organizational problem. Un and Yesno are hard to separate as books (they look very much like a single product, even having a shared table of contents). Wondering whether to combine them into one textual entity (thus breaking the spirit of the “one collection per poet” rule mentioned earlier) or write them both up (thus breaking the letter of said rule), I decided to simply throw in the towel, and left the project off the list. Dennis is quite possibly my favourite living Canadian poet, for a detailed appreciation, please read this thing I did last summer.

Don McKay’s Strike/slip (McClelland & Stewart, 2006)
Imagine for a moment that poetry books were pitched in much the same way as Hollywood films. A man in a large hat and blue jeans walks into a corporate office wheeling behind him a covered display tray. He greets the executives and says, “I have the subject of an exciting, downright thrilling book of poems right here, under this handkerchief!” The executives lick their lips and lean in as he pulls the scarf away to reveal…”Rocks! All sorts of rocks! Rocks as a metaphor for the ancient earth, disinterested in our fleeting human moment! Rocks as a vehicle for meditative thought! For deep ecological attention!” The executives grow pleased and begin to scribble on the backs of their assistants’ heads. No one doubts this man for a second, because they know this is Don McKay they’re dealing with, and he’ll turn this yawn-inducing concept into exactly what he claims, winding up with one of the three or four best collections of his career.

Erin Mouré’s Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (Anansi, 2001)
Moure takes the troubling neo-colonial politics of translating into English and runs with them, gleefully subverting the original work by resetting it in her own neighbourhood. Among the most politically ambitious books of the decade, sure, but also hilarious, alternatively reverent and irreverent, and able to distill big ideas into the smallest gestures and asides. Probably the unofficial #11 on the list, I can pick this book up in any mood and love it.

George Murray’s The Rush to Here (Nightwood, 2007)
Not generally considered an experimentalist, Murray does wonders here by giving the innumerable little tics and reconsiderations that populated The Hunter a single defining conceit. The idea of a sonnet that uses thought-rhymes in lieu of sound-rhymes works better than you’d think. This collection stands as something of the missing link between the form’s more stringent history and its present popularity as a rhetorical frame for philosophical free-versers. There’s an argument hiding in the subtext of this book, suggesting that the non-aural elements of a poem (its messages, images, epiphanies, questions, etc) work in very similar ways to its aural components (rhythm, meter, sounds, and so on). Eventually, you can hear the metaphors click into place at the end of the lines in Murray’s sonnets just as clearly as you can hear the rhyme scheme march along in a more traditional example of the form.

Dave O’Meara’s The Vicinity (Brick, 2003)
There’s so much to be said for poets that can do a little bit of everything. I’m not going to say it here, but, you know….it’s there to be said. Okay, then.

Todd Swift’s Winter Tennis (DC Books, 2007)
Swift likely goes under-appreciated in his home country because he lives in far-off England. However, he makes appearances as a regular booster of young poets of diverse styles and interests (myself included). Rather than bore you with the details, if you’re interested take a look at this review I wrote last year. It’s the only review I’ve ever written that I’m happy with.

Paul Vermeersch’s Between the Walls (McClelland & Stewart, 2005)
Here is the book that spent the most time waffling back and forth between the top ten list and this one. Paul is one of my very best friends, and the typical first reader of my poems. But he’s also someone that I tracked down and befriended specifically because of how much I loved Between the Walls (though I also liked Burn and The Fat Kid, Paul seems to be one of the few poets I enjoy more with each successive book, including his upcoming The Reinvention of the Human Hand, which may be better than all three). Worried about writing a defensive essay to quell my own guilt about choosing a close friend, I struggled to find an acceptable angle on the book. I found myself bogged down in questions of objectivity and personal allegiances (forgetting, apparently, that this was always a subjective personal project, from the very beginning) and ended up abandoning ship on my original plan to include Walls in the top ten. Perhaps a mistake, I’m not sure.

There’s no books in either the Top Ten or this shadow cabinet from 2009. I feel like the kind of critical writing I wanted to do needed the benefit of lapsed time, and the books I loved from this past year didn’t quite have the necessary gestation to get a fair shot with their peers. For the record, the 2009 books I considered for the list were the new ones from Ms. Holbrook, Mr. Langer, Mr. Starnino, and Mr. Surani.

On a personal note (as if blogs had non-personal notes…) when I started this project in late October, I gave myself a trial period from then until the end of the year. I didn’t want to commit the kind of energy I felt a true engagement would require if nobody was reading the results, so I decided that 1,000 visitors would be a nice round number to shoot for, if I got that many by the end of December, I’d keep going. As my nifty little traffic tracker ticks towards 6,000 tonight, I’d like to thank all the people, places, and things that sent readers my way over these two months. I’ll try to pay it back, in much the same way a barnacle tries to pay back a sperm whale. Thanks to the following: Christian Bök, Bookninja, Chris Banks, Coach House Press, The Globe and Mail, Maisonneuve, Open Book Toronto, Brian Palmu, Poetry Daily, The Poetry Foundation, Alessandro Porco, Sina Queyras, the Quill & Quire, Stephen Rowe, Vehicule Press, Paul Vermeersch, Zachariah Wells, and the many Facebookers and Tweeters who linked in. Special thanks to anyone who enriched the conversation by writing in with spirited words.

I’ll have a post up on the Knotting-Off #1 sometime soon. Promise.

Knotting-Off: Honourable Mentions and Dishonourable Traits (Part 1 of 2)

December 19, 2009

As promised, we pause the love parade for a moment to take a step back, breathe deeply, and consider the situation. I’d like to thank all of you for keeping up with this list, and for your words of encouragement (and your occasional playful argument-prods) over these last few weeks. It’s very rewarding to see, from my distant perch and the traffic data it provides, new visitors who drop by and read the whole thing from Intro up to #2, in one sitting. Thanks for that. I hope you didn’t have shit to do.

This little interruption has two component parts: a brief discussion on the nagging considerations I couldn’t stop thinking about throughout the length of this tangent, and a list of books that, for various reasons, were near-misses. The first half is contained herein, I’ll post part two very shortly.

The Poetics of the List:
One of the ongoing dramas for me was the tension between the list order as I originally made it, and a desire to move things around in the interest of dramatic flow, simpatico pairings, or juxtaposition. I think I said in the intro that I wasn’t too concerned with the order itself, that my love for, say, book number three isn’t in any quantifiable way greater than my love for number five. Books of poems don’t really have very many “quantifiable ways” about them, and with the exception of maybe number one, these ones share the same honoured space on my bookshelf (or sailor’s trunk, or slow-moving American river…).

I found myself quibbling with the list order more and more as time went on. Writing about a certain book would put me in the mood to write about another. I moved books around so I could follow the list’s most lyrical collection (identified as the Goyette) with its most experimental (Kennedy/Werschler-Henry’s). I didn’t feel able to speak about “the feminine” in any constructive or new way, so I let three great female poets follow each other (Young, Dalton, and Solie) in the hopes that some glint of a theme would develop on its own. I found myself following controversial or obscure choices with known quantities, likely in the interest of keeping disgusted readers coming back.

As a poetic device, the list is among my least favourite tools. At least, List Poems are among my least favourite poetic varietals. That being said, listing is an integral part of most poets’ styles, and I include myself among them even though I prefer to keep my lists short and folded into the lyric around it. I’ve come to admire lists, though, as the troubles and joys they offer are similar across poetic schools and traditions. The problems of the list are constant, no matter the list maker. The concerns illustrated in the list referenced in my brief selection from Eunoia (namely, issues of rhythm, redundancy, depth, and breadth) are the same concerns shared by Camlot in his lists, Connolly in his, and the others. And they’re the same concerns I had in making this list of favourite books: rhythm (in that the list makes a sort of musical gestalt, a pay-off for the fine-tuning described in the previous paragraph), redundancy (I was never going to have two books by the same author, for example), depth (as translated from a line of poetry into a collection of personal essays—the desire to talk about new things, new themes, while developing the old tropes and choruses from earlier), and breadth. By breadth, I mean all of the following…

The Politics of the List:
Canons are obnoxious things. Whether their interest is the preservation of existing literary assumptions, or the push for new ones, they’re obnoxious. As the piling-on of “Best of the Decade’ lists begins in earnest these next few weeks, keep an eye out for the different kinds of lists. Most lists are either personal and surprising (like those generated by individual critics and media outlets in need of further column inches), or communal and boring, as when all surprises and anomalies of taste are ironed out by the sheer statistical weight of the 1,000 person survey (I’m looking at you, Academy Awards).

Most lists are conservative in nature. Even when they purport to be forward-focused, as in here and here, they are inherently an act of looking back, of freezing the recent past in place so it can be compared to the future. This is the nest of both conservative politics and aesthetics. While I don’t consider myself a subscriber to either of those philosophies, I know a lot of people who do, and the argument is essentially that the past needs to be codified, and its superlatives drawn out, so we can look to it as a potential guidepost for the future. This is why most lists (whether given the qualifiers “favourite”, “best”, “most influential”, “most newsworthy”, or even “sexiest”) tend to either be expressions of the dominant races, genders, classes, regions, etc, or (in an act far more backwards) an expression of those dominant groups with token exceptions given to, say, one representative of each marginalized constituency.

The first kind of list is a disappointment no matter what the author’s intentions, the second kind is only backwards if the falsely liberal gestures are conscious choices. I submit that any political bias in my list is not a conscious one; I never stopped to consider the following numbers until today…

Subtracting the as-yet unrevealed #1 favourite book, my list includes five men and four women. It includes only white people. I would say that, though I have no means of knowing for sure, the median age of the authors responsible is lower than the median age for Canadian poets in general. The majority of the books were written in cities, and most represented among them are the three Canadian cities I lived in myself (St. John’s, Halifax, Toronto). Surely, I was closest to the literary communities there, and that bias appears in the list. I have met six of these nine poets personally, and consider one a personal friend (in the real way, not the on-Facebook way). I believe I only had to exchange money for my personal copies of these books in four of the nine examples. The breakdown by publishers is as follows: three from Brick Books, and one each from Insomniac, ECW, Anansi, Gaspereau, Vehicule, and Coach House. It’s surprising to see Brick with so many, fully a third of the list so far. If I had been forced to name my favourite Canadian poetry brands before I started this project, I don’t know if they’d have cracked the top three. But the list surprises, and so there it is, pretty obviously placed at number one. It’s also notable that Brick is a somewhat rural publisher, at least in the context of its Toronto-centered industry. I notice that there’s nothing here to represent my own poetry stomping grounds at McClelland & Stewart. It’s okay, though. They know I love them.

This collapsing and re-collapsing could go on forever, but I think I’ll stop there. Up next, a sort of “honourable mentions”/”shadow cabinet” of ten more books that could have made my favourites, but were left out not as some random quality judgment, but for reasons described under one of the two headers detailed above. Essentially, for invalid reasons, in lieu of non-existent ones.

Knotting-Offs: George Murray and Sina Queyras

December 18, 2009

I was exciting to wake up this afternoon (I work nights, so this is wake-up time for me) and see top ten lists from two of my very favourite Canadian book bloggers. George Murray made my day last month by saying he was a fan of this blog, as the man behind Bookinja George is something of the Larry King of this little world, so I took his kind words to heart. And he’s followed through on a promise to make his own top ten list, his is international in scope, and of poets instead of individual books. He means everything he says, though, and it’s nice to see his sharp wit turned to something other than “the ongoing controversy over Kindles and other e-readzzzzzzzzz”

Sina Queyras is another blogger I shadowed (and continue to shadow) before starting Vox Pop. Any blog that can have a string of posts that go: music video, poetry review, comedy bit, guest essay on appropriations pretty much has me at Hello. Her list (of collections, and specifically Canadian collections) shares a lot of titles with mine.

Sina and I even have a number of shared near-misses and honourable mentions. I’ll be posting my honourable mentions, along with some notes about the politics of list-making, shortly. Then it’ll be Knotting-Off #1 before or during Christmas, and this little affair is done. Thanks to you adorable kittens who have emailed me saying what they think #1 will be, this being my favourite guess so far (I’m an egotist, yes, but not a masochist). If anybody actually gets it right between now and then, I promise glorious prizes.